Six steps to happy hires with longterm potential

Finding good talent is a major challenge for IT leaders, and the answer seems to be to recruit and retain. But are any companies doing this really well? Reed Technology is, and it’s ranked a best place to work in IT.

“For any business that is healthy or growing in a difficult economy, there’s still this persistent resource constraint,” says Dave Ballai, CIO and vice president of commercial solutions at Reed Technology, a LexisNexis business unit. “Your choices are: steal from other projects, outsource if time permits, or hire additional positions and try to get them up the curve.”

1. Take the long view. Reed puts a lot of effort into developing employees and weighs these choices especially carefully. Though it may be easiest to fill a position with someone who can just do that one job, Ballai is adamant that such shortsightedness is foolish. “It’s more important to try and identify people that have potential for movement at least one or two levels up.”

2. Explore internal candidates first. Such hires protect the company’s culture. “Whenever you add people from the outside, it’s the equivalent of creating little asteroid hits on the moon. It doesn’t take the moon out of orbit, but it changes the dynamics of the surface,” says Ballai. He sees internal hires as a critical part of his algorithm for recruiting and retaining talent because he can further leverage those hires for referrals.

3. Don’t skimp on engagement. “The challenge of finding people is one thing, the challenge of integrating them another,” says Ballai. “Engagement is part science, part art, and a whole lot of practice.” In support of this belief, Reed spends a lot of time each year, from the executive level on down, aligning incentive metrics with performance metrics, Ballai says. “Everyone has key performance objectives, not just to get the job done, but to excel.”

The company also has a suite of retention tools to keep employees engaged. While cold, hard cash is always welcome, the more expensive commodities–development and time–are also good retention tools.

“We give employees enough latitude in the administration of their job so they can determine how and when to improve themselves,” Ballai says. “They can take self-directed learning at a pace they set and on a topic that is relevant to their role.”

4. Always follow through. “I’m a big believer in execution. You can say whatever you want–and you do need to get out in front of your employees and tell them what you’re going to do for them–but the reality [for them] is in the execution,” he says.

In other words: Employees need to trust that you’re actually going to do what you say you’re going to do.

5. Reward activities you like. Reed offers a broad range of recognition opportunities and activities that bolster attributes that are core to its culture. “We pay employees to go offsite and volunteer services for a day. We have a spirit week where we have different activities every day, culminating in an offsite meeting at the end of the week.”

Think it’s a bunch of HR hooey? Reed Technology’s successful employee retention is key to maintaining its culture. “While recruiting is important, the larger effort is the engagement process as it [relates to] the lifetime of their employment.”

6. Learn to love HR. If you think HR stands for “hated resources,” you may want to rethink your attitude. Ballai calls HR “one of our most trusted partners” and says the department is incredibly important to recruiting, retaining and engaging talent.

Do the work. Keep it simple. Make apostles of your people and you’ll reap the benefit of those good hires for years to come.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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